The last two days of using Chrome have had me thinking about the purpose of the Web browser in today's world. I've talked about how Chrome and Firefox have changed how we see browsers, treating them as interactive windows into our daily life, rather than the uncontrolled end of an information firehose.
These applications, that on the surface seem to serve the same purpose, have taken very different paths to this point. Much has been made about Firefox growing out of the ashes of Netscape, while Chrome is the Web re-imagined.
It's not just that.
Firefox, through the use of extensions and helper applications, has grown to become a Desktop replacement. Back when Windows for Workgroups was the primary end-user OS (and it wasn't even an OS), Norton Desktop arrived to provide all of the tools that didn't ship with the OS. It extended and improved on what was there, and made WFW a better place.
Firefox serves that purpose in the browser world. With its massive collections of extensions, it adds the ability to customize and modify the Web workspace. These extensions even allow the incoming content to be modified and reformatted in unique ways to suit the preferences of each individual. These features allowed the person using Firefox to feel in control, empowered.
You look at the Firefox installs of the tech elite, and no two installed versions will be configured in the same way. Firefox extends the browser into an aggregator of Web data and information customization.
But it does it at the Desktop.
Chrome is a simple container. There is (currently) no way to customize the look and feel, extend the capabilities, or modify the incoming or outgoing content. It is a simple shell designed to perform two key functions: search for content and interact with Web applications.
There are, of course, the hidden geeky functions that they have built into the app. But those don't change what it's core function is: request, receive, and render Web pages as quickly and efficiently as possible. Unlike Firefox's approach, which places the app being the center of the Web, Chrome places the Web at the center of the Web.
There is no right or wrong approach. As with all things in this complicated world we are in, it depends. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish and how you want to get there.
The conflict that I see appearing over the next few months is not between IE and Firefox and Safari and Opera and Chrome. It is a conflict over what the people want from an application that they use all the time. Do they want a Web desktop or a Web container?